The Wheelchair Situation

September 17, 2010

When I told the wheelchair guy I was thinking about asking a mechanical engineering class if they wanted to take on Chloe’s wheelchair as a project, I was only half kidding.   He wasn’t kidding at all.

“You should totally do that.  Call them and then let me know.  I’ll come to the class and everything.”

So lest you thought a wheelchair was just a chair on wheels, the guy with access to countless “custom” wheelchair parts and straps and cushions and head, foot and armrests thinks we would have more luck letting 20 budding engineers with blow torches take a crack at it.

What is so hard about making a chair that Chloe can sit in?  Well, first, there’s the fact that the human body has over 200 joints.  And if you’re going to be strapped into a chair all day, it helps if none of them are squished or strained or crooked.  And if you’ve ever seen the way Chloe whacks her fingers into her headrest when she gets excited, you know that we have to consider all of these 200-plus joints on some level.

Then there is the exponential degree that athetoid cp can complicate things. Chloe’s neck is so weak that her head must be supported from all four sides.  And we actually have a headrest that can do this.  But her legs are so strong that when she gets the urge to move, she puts so much strain on her headrest that she has, in the past, broken through a centimeter-thick piece of metal.

The body of a person with cerebral palsy is full of contradictions, so her wheelchair must be, as well.  It has to be strong yet flexible, adjustable but sturdy, supportive without being too heavy.  And on top of all that, it can’t look too atrocious.  What you end up with, this thing we call a chair, is actually a collection of so many parts that the inventory sheet is three pages long.

Chloe’s physical therapist and the wheelchair guy have different opinions about what headrest works best for her.  This one has a strap across the forehead and lateral supports along the jawline, but oh, that strap always slips around and by the way, it’s made of three different pieces so there’s that much more to break.

“Sorry to muddy the waters,” said the wheelchair guy.

“Oh don’t worry about that, ” I said.  “They’re always muddy.”  Maybe he thought I was getting overwhelmed by information, but like any practiced writer, I know how to ignore the superfluous details, delete the stuff that doesn’t work, and focus on the main idea.

“So whose opinion did you go with?” asked a friend later that day.

“The same one I always go with,” I said.  “My own.”


One Response to “The Wheelchair Situation”

  1. yanna shumaker Says:

    I just read all your blogs and saw that I can sign up to automatically get them!! YAY! I love them so much, sweetheart.

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